Recently, several Laughing Gulls were spotted all around Cape Ann. Laughing Gulls are easy to confuse with Bonaparte’s Gulls, which at this time of year, also have black heads. As the breeding season winds to an end, the Bonaparte’s black head feathers give way to white, where only a smudge of an earmuff will remain. Bonaparte’s Gulls breed in the Arctic; we see them on both their northward and southward journeys and some make Massachusetts their winter home. Small flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls can be seen at area beaches including Good Harbor Beach, Lighthouse Beach, and Wingaersheek Beach.
While foraging, Bonaparte’s Gulls vigorously churn the sandy bottom with their feet to stir up tiny marine creatures. Note the transitioning head feathers, from dark to light, in the above gull.
They are feeding intently, fortifying for the migration, and often get into disagreements over feeding turf.
Bonaparte’s in a territory tussle
The easiest and quickest way to distinguish Laughing Gull from Bonaparte’s Gull is to look at the legs and feet. Bonaparte’s Gulls are a vivid orange, more pink later in the season. The Laughing Gull’s legs and feet are blackish-reddish.
Laughing Gull, with dark feet and legs.
Bonaparte’s Gulls have bright orange legs and feet
Photograph from last September; Bonaparte’s with only a hint of black head feathers remaining